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Lions Aim to Dethrone Reigning CAA Champ, UMass

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By Pat White, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Senior Jack Forster (Jenkintown, Pa.) put it short and sweet. "Right now we are focused on winning a championship."

Forster and the No. 9 Nittany Lions (11-3, 6-0 CAA) prepare for their first-round, home matchup in the CAA Championship against fourth-seeded UMass (7-7, 2-4 CAA) at 3 p.m. Wednesday at the Penn State Lacrosse Field.

8701570.jpegPenn State closed out a perfect 6-0 CAA regular season last Saturday in a 16-7 win at Hofstra. Forster was named Co-CAA Player of the Week after notching five goals and an assist to up his point total to 52 on the season. His 99 career goals are fourth all time and his 143 points rank seventh on Penn State's all-time list.

Head coach Jeff Tambroni said that Forster has come up big in the last few games coming down the stretch. He called his performance "signature Jack Forster."

"He has played terrific for us all year long," Tambroni said. "When we've needed a goal, or some energy, or something coming out of halftime or needed a play on the field...he has been there, as you would expect from a senior leader and captain. He has provided everything and then some on and off the field."

However, Forster isn't ready to celebrate his statistical accolades just yet. He wants to save that for after his career is over. Right now, his sights are set advancing past the first round of the CAA Championship for the first time in program history.

"That is all great and it's going to be a great thing to look back on when I'm done here," Forster said about climbing in the record books. "But right now we are just focused on winning a Championship, a CAA Championship here and focusing on UMass tomorrow."

The Nittany Lions were losers of three straight games before knocking off the reigning CAA Champion UMass 7-5 on March 16. It was the start of the current nine game winning streak that Penn State is riding heading into the CAA Championship. Senior Nick Dolik (Bloomfield Hills, Mich.) scored his first goal of the season in the win, and now ranks fifth on the team with nine goals and five assists.

The victory was a turning point in Dolik and the Nittany Lions' season. Dolik said the team learned a lot down the stretch to get to the point they are now. 

"As the year goes on, it's good to have a steady incline of how you're improving," Dolik said. "Just learning from earlier in the season from what good and bad things could have happened."

Dolik said that both teams know each other well and that the game will feature the same intensity as any other CAA contest.

"We know it's going to be a battle in the CAA, especially us and UMass," Dolik said. "Every little play counts and it's going to be a fight out there."

Tambroni said that preparation will be more challenging with the short week of practice leading up to the game.  Tambroni said the familiarity for both teams is helpful in game planning, but that Penn State still has to compete on the field. He is preparing for an offense that is effectively simple, but still averages 9.36 goals per game with a man-up unit working at 37.5 percent.

"They do what they do, and they do it very well," Tambroni said. "They play so hard and compete up and down the field and believe in themselves. You have to prepare for the intangibles and get the guys to compete as hard, if not harder."

UMass' senior attacker Will Manny is the facilitator of the offense with 31 points in just nine games. Kyle Smith leads the team with 29 goals and 47 points. Grant Whiteway and Connor Mooney added 23 and 20 goals respectively.

In order to keep the Minutemen offense in check, Penn State will lean on junior goalie and Tewaaraton Award nominee for the best player in college lacrosse, Austin Kaut (Morton Pa.). The Penn State defense has been a major component in the nine game winning streak the team is riding. The unit has allowed just 5.66 goals per game over the streak, helping Kaut lower his goals against average to 6.95. He has been the backbone of the team and will play a major factor if Penn State is to advance.

Tamboni said the team is motivated to get out of the first round of the CAA Championship for the first time during his tenor. Being ousted on their home field is something that Tambroni doesn't want to happen again.

"We've been the host last three years," Tambroni said. "We've lost two of these games, one at the hands of UMass. We want to keep this momentum going and understand the opportunity we have here at home and take advantage of that."

In the beginning of the season Tambroni said that he wanted his team to build confidence over a long period of time. The confidence level is high within the locker room, but Tambroni knows that being overconfident against a talented UMass team can be costly.

"As long as you utilize that confidence appropriately, place it on the field and help you play at your potential than it can be a good thing," Tambroni said. "If we become complacent and don't prepare the same can be a very dangerous thing."

Forster said the team will come out with swagger and focus leading up to the matchup with the Minutemen. He has been here through good and bad times with the program, and is excited to hopefully share more success with the home fans.

"It's great for our fans here at Penn State and it's what we set out for in the beginning of the year," Forster said. "We have achieved that goal and now have to actually win the next game against UMass."

Penn State and UMass are set to face off at 3 p.m. today at the Penn State Lacrosse Field for the semifinal of the CAA Championship.

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